#BeUMC Week 3: The People of God Who Attend to the Ordinances of God
By Derek Weber
Faithful, Spirit-filled, Deeply rooted
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born of God, and everyone who loves the parent loves the child. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments. For the love of God is this, that we obey his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome, for whatever is born of God conquers the world. And this is the victory that conquers the world, our faith. - 1 John 5:1-4 NRSV
After two weeks of arguing that what seemed simple was actually more complex than it appeared, we now change gears and assure the worship planning team that “attending to the ordinances of God” isn’t as difficult as we might think. So hang in there.
If you became familiar with the General Rules since Bishop Rueben Job published the book Three Simple Rules, then you may be wondering where this one came from. Actually, the better question is, “How did Bishop Job get from ‘Attend to the ordinances of God’ to ‘Stay in love with God’ as his third general rule?” Well, he was interested more in the object than in the process. You can’t argue with Bishop Job that the intent of the third rule was to cultivate a lively passion for God and for the world that God created. Wesley also wanted the people called Methodist to stay in love with God, but he was concerned about the means for doing so. The ordinances of God were those things that Wesley identified as being required of God’s people. He categorized them into works of piety and works of mercy. We have come to call them the inward and outward spiritual disciplines. The inward disciplines were those things that we would do within the body of Christ, sometimes alone, but more often in small groups. These disciplines would include things like worship and Bible study, prayer, and fasting. The outward disciples were things that were done in the wider community, visiting the sick or imprisoned, giving to charity, and caring for others in a variety of ways. These together were called the means of grace.
Grace, then, is how we experience then return God’s love. So, these ordinances were all about moving us to love God more by disciplined action. Therefore, the faithful people of God are those who keep these disciplines, not in a regimented or rote fashion, but as a way of expressing and experiencing love for God and neighbor, which Jesus named as the highest law of all.
Worship is one of the works of piety, or disciplines, but it can also be a means of presenting or encouraging others. Here again, a major purpose of this series is to celebrate what is already going on in the life of the church. Take the opportunity to lift up the various Bible study opportunities and bless those who have been faithfully attending and leading those efforts. Identify the prayer warriors in the life of the church, those who can be called upon to lift up the church and its ministries in regular prayer. Perhaps you could encourage others to do so by handing out prayer cards and inviting the whole congregation to pray the printed prayer at a specific time each week.
For some, these disciplines will feel like a burden, a duty to be performed. For those folks, some encouragement to consider a different approach would be helpful. Ask them to consider works of mercy as a way of disciplining themselves and allowing others to help keep them on track. Spirit-filled refers to being in tune with the Spirit in whatever activities we do. It is about being opened and being guided into new experiences, about seeing in new ways, about finding deeper connections with those inside and outside our Christian community. All that we do as the body of Christ is done to widen our reach, to invite others to come and know what we know and experience what we experience. Finding ways for people with different ways of engaging the world to experience God’s love is a way of Inclusion, of making sure that not everyone has to do the same or act the same or think the same in order to be a part of the whole.
Our goal, of course, is to make these disciplines, these ordinances, a part of our lives and a part of the witness of the community of faith in daily living. We look to those among us for whom prayer is a way of life—those who have dedicated themselves to Bible study, those who are deeply rooted in the activities of faith and have become examples and mentors to us all. They, like all of us, are disciple-making by how they live their lives. They are making themselves disciples and, by their witness, are making others disciples around them. Through them, we have had an experience of God through The United Methodist Church, and we rejoice in that. How might we feature these saints among us during worship—even those who may not seek it? We don’t want to embarrass them, but we do want to thank them for their witness and for the love of God that radiates from them. We want to celebrate their influence, connection, and impact on so many lives simply because they have been faithful to the ordinances of God.
Worship this week is about reaching out to God in ways that are beneficial to us and to those around us. This is about building up the body that we might all know God’s love in our daily lives. Send folks out with a challenge to continue to seek God’s grace by regular attention to these ordinances, providing direct resources for fulfilling that challenge. Staying in love with God, we can discover, takes discipline, but it is really easier than we think.
(NOTE: Please start your sermon preparation by reading the planning notes first. The design outline and intent of the series are found there and are essential for the sermon as well. The campaign words and messaging themes are outlined there and are useful for sermon preparation.)
“For the love of God is this, that we obey God’s commandments” (1 John 5:3). It makes sense that Bishop Job would translate this third general rule into “Stay in Love with God.” That is certainly what the ordinances are about, the disciplines as we know them. They are all about love—the love of God that is also expressed in the love of neighbor. Jesus taught us that. It is two sides of the same coin, this loving thing.
The problem is not that we don’t know that. We’ve heard that since we began in the faith at whatever point in our personal history. We know that we are to love God, and we know we are to love neighbor. We know. What we don’t know, or at best are confused about, is what love is. Or rather we don’t know how we’re supposed to love God. Love in our culture is . . . messy. Emotional, flighty, dependent on circumstances, subject to our moods and desires—love is messy. At least as we see it expressed, sung about, and performed in our dramas and comedies. And yes, we’ve explained it before, what love is, agape love. But it bears repeating and then talking about the discipline of loving.
So, let’s back up into chapter four of this first letter of John and explore this love thing a little more deeply.
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. … Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love. We love because he first loved us. - 1 John 4:7-12, 17-19, NRSV
Too much? Not enough, to be honest. Read all of chapter 4. Better yet, read the whole letter. The whole gospel. It will take a lot to grasp this discipline of love we are called to embrace with our whole being.
It is true that these verses seem like old news—like we’ve heard it all before. But set aside what you thought you knew, what you thought you heard in these verses before, and look again. Start with that most basic of declarations: God is love. Amazing, really, when you think about it. John could have said, “God is power.” Or God is justice. He could have said, “God is unknowable, the ineffable mystery of the universe.” He could have said almost anything, but he didn’t. Instead, John chose this little word that trips us up on a regular basis. “God is love.”
Not, “God loves,” or “God is the source of love.” But “God is love.” The fundamental essence of God is love. It boggles the mind, to say the least. But John isn’t done with this one earth-shattering statement—earth-stabilizing statement—earth-defining statement. Whatever. He doesn’t stop with one. “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us.” What? Wow. “God lives in us. Because love lives in us.” Not we love, or we are the source of love, but love lives in us.
And—and this is one of those ands you’ll need to hold onto your hats for—John says, “If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
Okay, we were on board there for a while. It sounded good, promising, even possible. Until that word perfected got tossed in. “His love is perfected”—stop there, and we can go along. God is perfect; that is a part of our fundamental theology; it is what we think about God; God is perfect, and God’s love can’t be anything else but perfect. So, stop there, John, and we are doing just fine.
But he didn’t stop there. God’s love is perfected in us. In us. See, now we know John is a bit messed up here. God’s love might be perfected in us, in a perfect world, with perfect circumstances, and if we stopped being human. Then maybe, ok. Superman, Wonder Woman, maybe. But little old me, little old you? No way.
We know it can’t be true because we’ve hurt too many times. We’ve been wrong too many times. We’ve been hurt, been lost, been rejected, tossed aside. Hardly perfect. We’ve stumbled through vows and commitments; we’ve run out of hope and energy. We’ve fallen short. Perfect? Not even close.
It’s a process. That’s what our founder John Wesley wrote. We are “going on” to perfection in love. We are on the way. Maybe. But if that’s true, then we must be taking the scenic route. We seem a long way off. We don’t grasp this love thing very well. We have trouble with the people close to us, the people we’re supposed to love, let alone the rest of the world—the ones unlike us; the ones that disturb us; the ones who just seem way too different from us. How in the world are we supposed to love them? Because who is to say that they will love us back?
Isn’t that how it is supposed to work? Don’t we love in order to be loved? Aren’t there winners and losers in this love game? Unless it isn’t really a game. There is no score to keep, no statistics to measure. No winner, no loser. There is just love. Love for the sake of loving. Love in order to allow God to take up residence in us. Love in order to be like God.
What is perfect love anyway? Is it love that doesn’t make any mistakes? No, not as long as we are human; mistakes are a part of the design. Is it love that never is rejected? No, even God’s love has been and continually is rejected. Is it love that never suffers, never hurts? Christ on the cross shows us that perfect love is love willing to suffer for those who are loved.
John seems to be saying that perfect love is love that never ends. “Love has been perfected among us in this: that we may have boldness on the day of judgment, because as he is, so are we in this world” (verses 17-18), Love lasts into eternity. Love never gives up—even when it hurts, even when it seems futile.
“Perfect love casts out fear.” What does that mean, I wonder? Maybe what it means is that when we allow God to do the loving in and through us, then there won’t be a time when we will need to wonder if we should love, should act out of love. We won’t be afraid if there is enough love to go around. We won’t be afraid that our love is inadequate in the face of indifference, or brokenness, or evil. Because it isn’t our love in the end. It is the God who abides in us that enables us to love at all. We won’t be afraid of running out because we know an inexhaustible source. Beloved, let us love.
These are the commandments that we are called to keep; these are the ordinances that will help us stay in love with God. Wesley knew that this would take time. Wesley knew that this would be a process. Wesley knew that we would have to work at it day by day, every day of our lives, and, even then, we would sometimes feel so far away that we’d lose sight of what love looks like.
Yet, John says that we will conquer the world with this love, this discipline, with this faith. Conquer the world. The world inside of us and the world all around us. That is what we are working toward as we attend to the ordinances of God.
What does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
- O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing UMH 57
- The Rule of Life W&S 3117
- And Are We Yet Alive UMH 553
- Cantemos al Señor UMH 149
- What does the Lord Require of You TFWS 2174
- Bring Forth the Kingdom TFWS 2190
- Roll Down, Justice: Sacred Songs and Social Justice by Mark Miller
Week 3: The People of God Who Attend to the Ordinances of God
Faithful, Spirit-filled, Deeply-rooted
- All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name UMH 154/155
- Cry of My Heart TFWS 2165
- I Want a Principle Within UMH 410
- I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry TFWS 2051
- Give Me a Faith Which Remove UMH 650
- Since Jesus Came Into My Heart TFWS 2140
- Let Us Plead for Faith Alone UMH 385
Rev. Dr. Derek Weber, Director of Preaching Ministries, served churches in Indiana and Arkansas and the British Methodist Church. His PhD is from University of Edinburgh in preaching and media. He has taught preaching in seminary and conference settings for more than 20 years.